“He has one of the best returns that I ever faced, to be honest,” Novak Djokovic said of Holger Rune.
By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Monday, November 13, 2023
Registering a record-extending eighth year-end world No. 1 ranking, Novak Djokovic says life isn’t lonely at the top.
When world No. 1 Djokovic looks across the net at Holger Rune, he sees a striking similarity to a reigning Grand Slam champion with a crackling return game— himself.
The top-seeded Djokovic fended off Rune 7-6(4), 6-7(1), 6-3 in his ATP Finals opener to secure the season-ending top spot.
It was Djokovic’s third win in five meetings vs. Rune and left him with a clear case of deja vu: facing Rune is like staring in the mirror for the six-time ATP Finals champion.
Specifically, Djokovic says Rune’s quickness around the court, creativity on the run, versatile two-handed backhand, rousing return game and explosiveness remind him of himself. Then, there’s the fact Rune is now working with Boris Becker, who coached Djokovic to six Grand Slam championships.
“Every single match we play against each other is a marathon now. It’s amazing,” Djokovic said of Rune. “He’s incredibly dynamic player, very quick, very powerful, so aggressive. He has one of the best returns that I ever faced, to be honest.
“Amazing return. He has improved his serve and his overall game. I think in the last month that he’s been working with Boris, there’s obviously a benefit to this relationship that they’re having.”
There are significant differences, of course.
The 36-year-old Djokovic has captured 24 Grand Slam championships, while the 20-year-old Rune has yet to play a major final. Djokovic’s forehand is one of his best weapons, while Rune’s forehand is much improved, it’s not on the level of the Serbian superstar’s forehand. Djokovic is the ultimate percentage player, while Rune let it roll on second serve often raising the risk factor delivering massive second serves against the Serbian.
Rune said while he’s flattered the Grand Slam king sees a shared style in their games, he doesn’t draw the same conclusion.
“Of course, I take the compliment that he’s saying we play similar,” Rune said. “I don’t think so, but that’s my opinion. It’s good to be comparing with him. He’s one of the greatest that we ever had in the game.”
The Dane who defeated Djokovic in a riveting 2022 Paris final says forceful first-serving and playing points on his terms are two crucial keys to defeating Djokovic.
“My first serve is very important against Novak because if you don’t put the first serve, you have a little bit of pressure because he returns so well,” Rune said. “So, yeah, was small things to remind me on my identity of my game, to play on my terms, even though it’s difficult against Novak because he try to play on his terms. It was like a battle of which terms there was going to be played on, and he won that battle.”
Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty